Exploring Eternal Love: Browning and Shakespeare's Sonnets

Categories: Poems

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I Love Thee" and William Shakespeare's "Sonnet XVIII" both delve into the timeless theme of everlasting, transcendent love. While Browning's sonnet expresses a passionate, eros-type love, Shakespeare's work conveys a love akin to agape, the love one feels for family and friends. Despite these differences, both poems share a common ground in their references to the beauty of emotions and the enduring nature of that beauty.

Structure and Form

Browning's "How Do I Love Thee" adheres to the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet, written in iambic pentameter.

Its 14 lines are divided into an octave (ABBA ABBA) and a sestet (CDCDCD). The octave presents the central dilemma of the poet, revolving around the declaration of love, while the sestet resolves this by detailing the various ways in which the author loves her beloved, asserting that this love will persist even beyond death.

Shakespeare's "Sonnet XVIII" follows the structure of a classical Shakespearean sonnet in iambic pentameter. It consists of 14 lines, organized into three quatrains (ABAB CDCD EFEF) and a concluding rhyming couplet (GG).

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The sonnet's primary focus is the comparison of the speaker's beloved to a summer's day, progressing through quatrains that elaborate on this metaphor and concluding with a couplet that ties together the themes of love and poetry.

Browning's Artful Expression

Browning's sonnet showcases a masterful use of literary devices. Opening with the rhetorical question, "How do I love thee?" and the subsequent response, "Let me count the ways," Browning employs a clear hyperbole, emphasizing the depth and abundance of her love.

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Figurative language such as "I love thee to the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach" paints a vivid image of boundless love. Analogies like "I love thee freely, as men strive for Right" and "purely, as they turn from Praise" further underscore the strength and purity of her affection. The concluding line, "I shall but love thee better after death," introduces an ironic twist, highlighting both the end of the poem and the inevitable end of life.

Shakespeare's Metaphorical Brilliance

Shakespeare's "Sonnet XVIII" begins with the proposition, "Shall I compare thee to a summer day?" foreshadowing the ensuing comparison of the beloved to a summer's day. The author strategically selects adjectives that apply to both the season and his beloved, creating a seamless parallel. Metaphors such as "rough winds" symbolize life's unpredictability, contrasting with the constancy of the beloved. Personification is employed through the metaphor of the "eye" of heaven, representing the sun. The speaker assures the permanence of his beloved's beauty by dedicating him to "eternal lines," seamlessly introducing the theme of poetry into a sonnet primarily centered on love.

Conclusion: Love's Multifaceted Beauty

In conclusion, Browning and Shakespeare, through their respective sonnets, offer profound insights into the multifaceted nature of love. Browning's passionate and hyperbolic expression explores the depths of love, while Shakespeare's metaphorical brilliance weaves together themes of love and poetry. Both poets ultimately converge on the idea that true love transcends temporal boundaries, whether through the boundless enumeration of ways or the dedication to "eternal lines." Through their artful language and structural finesse, Browning and Shakespeare immortalize the enduring beauty of love.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Exploring Eternal Love: Browning and Shakespeare's Sonnets. (2016, Jul 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/poetry-analysis-on-how-do-i-love-thee-and-sonnet-xviii-essay

Exploring Eternal Love: Browning and Shakespeare's Sonnets essay
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